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Ken Burns Documentary "Hemingway" on PBS

The Ken Burns Documentary "Hemingway" continues tonight on PBS stations here.

There are three episodes, on three consecutive nights. The first episode covers his childhood and early life, as well as his trip to the Italian Front to become an ambulance driver in World War I.
This episode covers the publication of his first novel and his time in 1920's Paris.

Episode 2 covers Hemingway's time in Key West and Cuba, and his love of sport fishing. This time period led to one of his most popular books, The Old Man and The Sea.

Episode 3 (the episode being broadcast tonight) covers his time in London, New York City, and Idaho.

This series functions as a travel program, because of the many places he lived and visited.
My favorite photos are in the segment about Paris, where Hemingway went to hang out with writers and artists of the 1920s' "Lost Generation" expatriate community.
My least favorite photos are of his hunting expeditions in Africa. For you animal lovers out there (and that includes me), look away when this part comes on the screen. Fortunately, there are some photos of Africa that do not include dead animals.
He spent time in Spain watching the bullfights and this is not a very pretty segment.

The photos taken from his own albums of these locations in Africa, Europe, Cuba, and the USA are from the 1920's to the 1950's.
It is worth watching the series just to see the photos.

PBS stations are repeating this show in their late night programming. So if you miss it in the 7 PM to 9 PM time slot, check your schedule to see if your PBS station is rerunning it from midnight to 2 AM.
My local PBS is also rerunning all 3 episodes back to back this weekend in a late night time slot.

I have been watching this series for the last two nights, but did not think about posting it here until today.
Hopefully many of you can watch the reruns of the first two episodes.

Posted by
3813 posts

Agree. Burns is a genius. Just finished watching his "Baseball" series last month in reruns on PBS.

Posted by
492 posts

You know Ken Burns is brilliant because he made me appreciate country music, despite my having committed myself on numerous occasions throughout life to never give a crud about country music.

Ken Burns and Rick Steves are leading contenders for 2 of my 3 "If you could have dinner with any 3 people in history..." slots.

Rebecca - As an animal lover who likes Hemingway, if you ever find yourself in Key West you'll need to be sure to visit the Hemingway Home and all its polydactyl cats!

Posted by
106 posts

I have been watching it and agree that Ken Burns is the best when it comes to documentaries like this. I still think his Civil War series was the best TV I've ever seen. Rebecca, I am with you on the hunting photos and especially disliked the video of the bull fight, The first episode about his life in Paris was my favorite also. Hope they repeat the entire series soon.

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15580 posts

If you miss any of the episodes on your local PBS station, you can go to the PBS website and watch it there.

Posted by
3967 posts

An excellent documentary, coming from Spain, I would say that Hemingway still looms large in our national psyche. His descriptions of my country have shaped how the world now sees us, for better or for worse.

As for the images of bullfighting and dead animals, it is very much in the style of Hemingway's writing - you must take the good with the ugly in order to see the true beauty of life.

Posted by
203 posts

Yes. We’ve really been enjoying it (we’re still on the first episode). The glimpse into Paris in the 20’s has been a delight. So hard to imagine Paris as a
cheap place to live. I never knew I was missing a documentary on Hemingway in my life but it turns out I was. So fascinating. The Paris Wife is an enjoyable read - historical fiction about his first wife, Hadley. She also wrote Love and Ruin about Martha Gellhorn while she was with Hemingway.

Posted by
1319 posts

I took at Hemingway walking tour in Paris through Paris Walks a few years ago which included many of his usual haunts in that city. I'd read a Hemingway bio around that time and it was great to see the places I'd read about.

Posted by
11404 posts

I wish it was done in one hour episodes.

Agree that Burns has a special talent

Posted by
262 posts

I’ve been enjoying it too. When I retired in 2015 I decided to read Twentieth-century American authors and ended up reading several of his novels. Farewell To Arms was my favorite. After watching this series I now plan to read some of his short stories.

Posted by
3813 posts

I'm glad you guys have been enjoying this series.

Last night's episode (part 3) was depressing, but we all knew how the Hemingway story ended.
I would love to see Finca Vigia, his home in Cuba.
Have been to the Key West house a couple of times.

1885BD, I agree. Burns' series on Country Music was great. The stories of the lives of the country music stars' rise to fame from poverty was interesting. Even though I have lived in Nashville, I do not care for country music. Classical music is what I like. Thanks for the suggestion about the Hemingway House in Key West. Have seen it a couple of times, and would like to go back.

lisa, I agree. Burns' Civil War series was the best. He told it the way it really was. No glossing over the awfulness of it all.

Frank II, thanks. I will definitely watch all 3 episodes again next week.

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3813 posts

"As for the images of bullfighting and dead animals, it is very much in the style of Hemingway's writing - you must take the good with the ugly in order to see the true beauty of life."

Carlos, I agree. He certainly saw horrible things during his time covering the wars in Europe, too. He was embedded with the troops during WW2. And when he was younger, as an ambulance driver in WW1, it was his job to gather body parts and try to match them together and put them in the ambulance. These things you cannot "un-see" once you've seen them. I have to think these memories contributed to his declining mental state later in life.

Dana, the first two episodes are the best. So glad you are enjoying the Paris in the '20's segments. Thanks for mentioning The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin. I must read those books. I am not happy about the way Hemingway treated his women.

Grier, thanks for mentioning the Hemingway walking tour in Paris with Paris Walks that you took. How fabulous to see the places you'd read about. I would love to take that walk.

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3813 posts

joe32F, I also had trouble staying with it for two hours. Have DVD'd it and when I watch it again, I will break it up into one hour segments.

"When I retired in 2015 I decided to read Twentieth-century American authors and ended up reading several of his novels. Farewell To Arms was my favorite. After watching this series I now plan to read some of his short stories."

sboh, good plan. I plan to read all of his short stories and novels again, hopefully in the order they were written. This will give me a greater understanding of them than when I read them as a college student. I think I will watch an episode of Ken Burns' Hemingway, and then read the books that he wrote in that time period. Then move on to the next episode, and more books.

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1817 posts

I traveled to Cuba in early 2020 (before the world ended) and visited Hemingway's house outside Havana. It's a charming place. The most interesting thing was in the bathroom. On the walls he wrote his weight every day.

I have photos of the house if you're interested; you can access them from my website (link in my profile). Or send me a PM and I can share the link to the Google photo album.

Posted by
3813 posts

About the Hemingway House in Key West.
Many of us are looking for a destination for a vacation now, and I suggest Key West. Lovely town, old houses, lots of good restaurants and hotels. Several companies do bicycle rentals, which is the absolute best way to see Key West.

The Hemingway House is the best sight on the island. I would recommend a trip down there to see it if you haven't been before. Hemingway's second floor writing studio over the carriage house is left exactly as it was when he walked out for the last time.
He lived here between 1931 and 1939.
It is at 907 Whitehead Street, across from the Key West Lighthouse, which is another must-see sight for Key West.
The third must-see for me is Harry Truman's Little White House.
The Hemingway House website is here:

For any of you motivated by this series to go to Key West, here's a guide to get you started:

Posted by
3813 posts

Lane, that is fabulous! I definitely want to see your photos! Thanks! Am sending you a PM.

I am reading your blog, and enjoying your photos of Finca “La Vigía”. Thanks for your take in the comments section about US-Cuba relations since 1900. This explains a lot about the history of the relationship between the two countries.

Posted by
3312 posts

We are watching this and it's really interesting. Although I found the bull fighting segments hard to watch and last night my husband said the guy was kind of full of himself. But, will keep watching!
I have actually not read any of his books, but did read The Paris Wife (about his first wife, Hadley) for book club and really enjoyed it. I need to read one of his books.

We have also watched the country music series (not a fan of country music, but now I do appreciate it) and we slogged through all 10 episodes of The Vietnam War, so much of that series hard to watch and the waste of human life. He tells it like it is and was.

And for those that really want to delve into the Hemingway tragedies (so much suicide in that family), I watched Running From Crazy (rented from youtube) filmed with Mariel Hemingway and it was good.

Posted by
3961 posts

Kudos to Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s documentary series. Excellent portrayal examining Hemingway’s life. I enjoyed the insightful interviews with the literary scholars as well as his son, Patrick.

We enjoyed visiting Key West more than 30 years ago. We stayed in a charming B&B just a few minutes from Hemingway’s home on Whitehead St. As mentioned up thread the Polydactyl cats and beautiful gardens were memorable.

In 2016 we took a Tapas Tour in Madrid and toured one of Hemingway’s haunts. It was Sobrino de Botin, said to be the oldest restaurant in the world, founded in 1725. It is near Plaza Mayor. Hemingway would write upstairs. I was looking back at my photos and recalled the table in a corner where he would eat the house specialty- roast suckling pig. Apparently Hemingway loved Botin so much that he set the final scene of “The Sun Also Rises” in the restaurant.

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3813 posts

diveloonie, the film with Mariel Hemingway sounds interesting. Thanks for mentioning it. I must watch that.

Janis, I enjoyed the interviews with the literary scholars, too, and with Hemingway's son, Patrick.
It was interesting to hear Patrick tell what it was really like to be around his father.
Very interesting about your Tapas Tour in Madrid and touring Sobrino de Botin.

Posted by
106 posts

My favorite Hemingway book is "A Moveable Feast" and as he said, to a friend in 1950:

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,
then wherever you go for the rest of your life,
it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

Posted by
10309 posts

And here from the Ken Burns documentary is a line quoted from a Hemingway letter:

“Paris is so very beautiful that it satisfies something in you that is always hungry in America.”

Posted by
4535 posts

Despite not being a fan of his work, I watched the series and was fascinated. The history. The photos and videos of Paris, Spain, and Cuba. His relationships with women (complicated). His struggles with alcoholism and mental illness. And it did make me want to read more of his work and maybe reassess it.

Ironically, I've seen many of his "homes." His childhood home in Oak Park (the current owners have beautifully restored it, including his attic room set up the way he had it), his room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos (got a private tour - we stayed in the room adjacent to his), and Finca Vigia. Finca Vigia was particularly fascinating as it was left exactly the way he last left it. I need to get to Key West someday and visit his house there.

Posted by
23440 posts

...... I would love to see Finca Vigia, his home in Cuba..... We managed that a couple of years ago. Will give the Cuban government credit for preserving his home. I can certainly see why he lamented about being in Idaho in his later years and would have preferred to be in Cuba. So would I. Although the Cuba of his day no longer exists. And it is sad to see a great talent slide downhill so slowly. Shock treatment was crude but the standard of the day. So sad.

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3813 posts

"I've only seen the third Burns installment, so I don't know if he states this stuff or not.
Does he?"
Bobby, the program definitely details the income that Pauline Pfeiffer was getting. And reveals that her wealthy uncle bought the house in Key West for them. This is in Episode 2, covering mainly Key West and Cuba.
I cannot remember whether Burns mentioned the income Hadley was getting, but that would have been in Episode 1, which covers his early life and his life in Paris.

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3813 posts

Douglas and Frank, you are both fortunate to have seen Finca Vigia.
My hope is that in the near future it will become easier for Americans to travel to Cuba.

Yes, heartbreaking to see the decline of Hemingway. I knew the story about the end of his life, but did not know about the two plane crashes he was in in Africa, or the shock therapy. Episode 3 was difficult to watch.

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2494 posts

I have spent my life with Hemingway in my mind whenever I put pen to paper. I read him in college and remember his statement “write one true sentence” and that is what I strived to do. I do some writing in my work and I’m always trimming and pruning to write clearly and produce concise content.
I’ve enjoyed this series on his life and work. I recorded it each night and am watching the second part.

We read The Paris Wife in my book club as well as A Moveable Feast. I took the Paris Walks Hemingway tour and remember Rue du Cardinal Lemoine and the other places he lived there.

In the Burns’ series, I was struck by the androgyny his mother practiced in dressing him and his sister as boys or as girls. Then it was mentioned his son, Gregory, became a trans woman known as Gloria. Interesting. Also, tragic that 4 out of the 8 members of his family committed suicide.
I also thought Ken Burns really hit the truth with the part about Hemingway’s Avatar and the persona he created after he came back after WWI. He lied and then had to tell bigger lies to keep it all going.

Your comments have all been interesting. I, too, was not really a fan of country music until I watched his brilliant series!

Posted by
4622 posts

Ken Burns is usually exhaustingly thorough but I thought the treatment of Michigan and his boyhood cottage was superficial, considering how important Hemingway thought Michigan was to his upbringing. Michigan is a key feature of his pseudo-autobiographical Nick Adams short stories. Maybe I've been misled by the very long and melodramatic 60s film "Adventures of a Young Man."

Posted by
2532 posts

Since no one has mentioned this yet, I will:
The interview segments with John McCain are especially poignant since they were recorded shortly before his death, and at a moment when issues of integrity and manliness were part of the nightly tabloids, as McCain did what he could to present a contrast to the other big name(s) in the declining Republican Party that were dragging it down ever more quickly.

Senator McCain had long insisted on how Hemingway's writing, though not his personal foibles, had been a great inspiration to him, in particular the protagonist of For Whom The Bell Tolls

and McCain himself wrote several books (he actually wrote his books, unlike the other big name in the declining GOP).

Posted by
23440 posts

....My hope is that in the near future it will become easier for Americans to travel to Cuba..... It may be awhile. With a stroke of luck we were in Havana the week that Obama loosen restrictions on Cuba especially regarding rum and cigars. We have to be nearly the first Americans returning to Miami legally with rum and cigars. Then, of course, Trump reversed most of that. As a government we have really screwed up both our relationship with Cuba and Cuba itself. There is so much potential with Cuba yet we continue to think this is 1952.

Posted by
1605 posts

Not knowing that much about him beforehand, I enjoyed the documentary very much. Hemingway, warts and all, and there were plenty of them. Loveable rougue or egotistical twat, it was fascinating. I read The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea in my late twenties, and I have the same opinion of the latter novel as the Irish lady (Edna O'Brien) who commented on it.

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847 posts

Several people mentioned the book, "The Paris Wife" but I don't think I've seen mention of "Mrs Hemingway" by Naomi Wood. It's about all 4 of his wives. In reading it I was surprised how the depiction of events around his life with Hadley Richardson in the Paris Wife" was almost exactly the same as in "Mrs Hemingway". Both are novels so you'd think there might be some differences .But there weren't. And now having seen the Ken Burns Documentary I see how true the depiction in both books are. Anyway, if you enjoyed "The Paris Wife" and the documentary you might enjoy "Mrs. Hemingway" as well.

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3813 posts

Judy B, interesting that you took the Paris Walks Hemingway tour. I absolutely want to do that.
You wrote: "In the Burns’ series, I was struck by the androgyny his mother practiced in dressing him and his sister as boys or as girls." I was also struck by this, as it is so unusual, and I wondered why she did this. It's certainly not something a lot of mothers would think of doing.
"I also thought Ken Burns really hit the truth with the part about Hemingway’s Avatar and the persona he created after he came back after WWI. He lied and then had to tell bigger lies to keep it all going." Agree. The Avatar was a good title for the second episode. He had to keep telling stories that were more and more interesting.

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3813 posts

Frank, thanks for your take on Cuba-U.S. relations.
As usual, you are 100% right.

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3813 posts

isabel, thanks for your comments. I am adding "Mrs. Hemingway" to my reading list because of your recommendation.

Posted by
93 posts

Not a big fan of the man or his ethos (much prefer one of his contemporaries, Steinbeck), but Burns' latest documentary is excellent. As an aside, all the mentions of Hemingway's Key West house/museum on this thread brought back my own memory of visiting the place about 25 years ago. The little gift shop only had one choice of postcard, which I pointed out to the cashier had misspelled his name ("Hemmingway House"). "We can't have that!" she said, and immediately removed the rest of the cards from the rack. She wanted the one in my hand, too, but I insisted on buying it.

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3813 posts

Here's a tour to Cuba from Road Scholar. I wouldn't post this here if it competed with Rick Steves tours, but it doesn't, as Rick has no tours going to Cuba. I receive emails from this company.
Cuba trip with Road Scholar:

See book list at the bottom of the page, "Suggested Reading List". There are many interesting books about Cuba.

I don't know what hoops one might have to jump through to go on this, or if pre-testing or quarantine are necessary, but it might be an interesting option when we all get the go-ahead again on travel.

Posted by
5 posts

An first rate documentary, coming from Spain, I might say that Hemingway nevertheless looms huge in our countrywide psyche. His descriptions of my u . s . a . have formed how the arena now sees us, for higher or for worse.